LePage doesn’t like newspapers. But he vetoed a bill hurting newspapers

Good morning from Augusta, where a heavier flow of bills moving to the floors of the legislative chambers means more vetoes from the all-time champion in that statistic, Gov. Paul LePage.

The House of Representatives will vote on whether to override another five vetoes today, including one of a bill that would actually hurt Maine newspapers, which sit just below “liberals” on the Republican governor’s list of enemies. (Or perhaps more accurately, he just sees them as the same thing.)

Yes, the veto — if sustained — actually helps Maine’s newspaper industry, even though he hammered us for “unabashed liberal bias” and “third-rate reporting” in his veto letter.

The bill in question would repeal two antiquated requirements in Maine law: that city clerks post specimen ballots in a newspaper having circulation there before a city election and post several copies of voting instructions and specimen ballots in a voting room.

This information is now almost always available online and Maine towns don’t have to do this, so the bill was backed by the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association, which also cited the cost of the newspaper ads — between $300 and $500 — as a justification for the bill.

The Maine Press Association, which lobbies for newspapers in the state (including the Bangor Daily News) and often fights attempts to roll back the state’s laws mandating printed legal notices, didn’t submit written testimony on the bill.

Its path to passage was a clear one, as it is with most of these types of rote fixes to Maine law. The Legislature passed the bill easily without roll call votes. You wouldn’t be hearing about this bill at all — or even probably notice its impact — without LePage and his trusty veto pen.

“Due to the unabashed liberal bias of Maine newspapers and the third-rate reporting by the so-called ‘journalists’ they employ,” he wrote in his veto letter, “Mainers are increasingly choosing to get their news from other outlets.”

(Newspapers’ problem isn’t so much overall readership as they haven’t been able to supplant a steep drop in print readership and — therefore — ad revenue with forms of online revenue, but I digress.)

However, LePage said “because the vast majority of Mainers do not buy Maine newspapers … , it is important that we keep the requirement that specimen ballots be displayed at polling stations” — even though one copy would have to be left in the room under the bill.

He went on to say, “I also think current law should be amended to provide that sample ballots be posted on the internet, rather than in newspapers,” even though that wasn’t at issue here.

So, LePage’s veto begins with a shot at newspapers only to help newspapers preserve a legacy print revenue source in the end. Judging by its easy passage, the veto may well go down today. But until then, here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • A bill to force the governor to nominate permanent commissioners has a committee endorsement. But that doesn’t guarantee it will pass. LD 379 would require governors to nominate commissioners within 90 days of appointing a temporary commissioner. In the case of an education commissioner — LePage’s delay of which led to this bill in the first place — the governor would have 120 days. The bill now goes the full Legislature with a partisan 7-4 State and Local Government Committee recommendation, with Republicans in opposition. It faces a tough road to two-thirds support, which is what enactment over a presumed gubernatorial veto will require. — Christopher Cousins
  • The Scarborough Maine Veterans’ Home just received $500,000. According to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, the Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded the facility $479,155.51 to reimburse it for 65 percent of the cost of a six-month renovation project that was completed in October 2014. There was no explanation of why the reimbursement approval took almost three years or what the 51 cents paid for. — Christopher Cousins
  • The long-time face of the Maine Clean Election Act is moving on. Andrew Bossie, who has been the executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections for the past six years, has announced his resignation effective at the end of June. The organization will conduct a search for a replacement, with a end-of-2017 goal for filling the position. In the meantime, John Brautigam, a former legislator and attorney for public campaign funding matters since the 1990s, will serve as interim director. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The Legislature is in for a busy day on Tuesday, with long schedules in the House, Senate and even committees later in the day.

  • The House is scheduled to take enactment votes on the Legislature’s compromise bill to allow mining in Maine with strict environmental protections and an effort to force LePage to issue a $15 million housing bond that looks to be headed nowhere with lingering Republican opposition.
  • The chamber may also take an initial vote on a bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, to make Maine the seventh state to allow assisted suicide. That measure looks like it will pass the Legislature, but not by enough to avoid a threatened LePage veto. A bill to exempt feminine hygiene products from the sales tax is also up in the House for initial action.
  • The Senate is set for an enactment vote on the now uber-controversial bill that would place a 5-cent deposit on “nips” — or 50-milliliter alcohol bottles, which are skyrocketing in popularity and being increasingly discarded as roadside waste. The proposal has bipartisan support, but LePage has threatened to veto the bill and work to ban nips in Maine if it passes. An initial vote on a bill to increase opioid treatment reimbursement rates is also scheduled.
  • Legislative committees are still churning through bills. There are even a few just being introduced today. Further down the docket are two Republican-sponsored bills in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee that deal with health care costs. The first would allow consumers to bargain shop for treatment options; the other has to do with the mix of supplemental and primary insurance coverage. The Education Committee looks ready to make recommendations on proposals to create a statewide public school teacher contract and the Health and Human Services Committee will consider two bills that focus on the state’s Maternal and Infant Death Review Panel.

Check out today’s full committee schedule by clicking here. — Michael Shepherd and Christopher Cousins

Reading list

I might get fired for this

My otherwise esteemed editor, Robert Long, moonlights as a youth baseball umpire and yesterday, he called a game for my alma mater, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

The school’s mascot is the Viking. Since before I went there, there has been a statue in the school of a really mean-looking Viking (he looks like he could totally beat you in just about any sport), complete with some weapons-grade horns on his helmet. He’s pretty tough.

“But Vikings didn’t have horns,” says Robert. “It’s historically inaccurate.”

Say that in downtown Norway or South Paris, pal, and see what it gets you. Clearly, the only Vikings that really matter HAVE HORNS. I don’t know how you can call balls and strikes correctly if you can’t see that. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.